Iro Haarla: Northbound (2005)
Beauty can mean many different things, but in my view of music, the concept centers around euphony, construction and the listener's emotional response. Consonant intervals, melodic lines that have internal logic, chord progressions that create and release tension, and timbres that blend together all work toward the beautiful. Add to this the mental imagery that some music can engender and you have the possibility of a totally engulfing experience.
Northbound can easily be placed among the most overtly beautiful releases in the ECM catalogue, including Leosia, Serenity, Amaryllis, Nothing Ever Was, Anyway and Rosslyn, to name a few. In its directness and simplicity, combined to express an extremely strong emotional response to nature, Northbound is something to get lost in; after it washes over you, you emerge refreshed and rejuvenated. This very powerful music is as wide as it is deep, expressing a love of life and a gratitude towards nature.
Northbound is Haarla's debut as a leader, and much has been written about the influence she had behind the scenes in her husband Edward Vesala's band, Sound & Fury. Influencing each other from different kinds of musicmaking, Vesala and Haarla were partners whose creations reflected the merging of their separate sensibilities. Saxophonist Trygve Seim and bassist Uffe Krokfors both have connections with Vesala and Haarla that go back many years, and trumpeter Matthias Eick, despite his youth, has played with Seim since 1992. Drummer Jon Christensen is known, of course, for his work on ECM since its very beginnings.
The tracks on Northbound are deceptively simple in their construction. Haarla chooses not to play many notes on piano or harp. She uses simple but subtly colored harmonies, and the progressions could many times be coming from church music. The intervals that make up Eick and Seim's soaring lines create a feeling of openness and peace, especially when they harmonize as they intertwine with each other. Most of the time the music does not have a strict pulse, instead relying on a kind of free rubato where everyone must feel the flow together. Christensen provides constant commentary with his kit, and Krokfors meshes extremely well with him to form a bottom voice that is hidden but necessary.
It is clear from the names of the tracks that we are entering the intersection of music and nature from a northern perspective. This sound world is immediately defined by the sound of the harp and sax on "Avian Kingdom," which opens up when Eick joins in with his crystal-clear trumpet. "Barcarole," "With Thanksgiving" and "Light In The Sadness" have the feeling of a triptych in which the extremely touching theme is developed and spread against an endless expanse that both frightens and comforts. Intimations of Marilyn Crispell's emotional pianism surface in "Waterworn Rocks" and "Northbound."
One can only hope that Northbound is but the first of many recordings from Iro Haarla.
Track Listing: Avian Kingdom; Barcarole; With Thanksgiving; Time For Recollection; On The Crest Of A Wave; Waterworn Rocks; Veil Of Mist; Light In The Sadness; A Singing Water Nymph; Yarra, Yarra...; Northbound....
Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, harp; Trygve Seim: saxophones; Matthias Eick: trumpet; Uffe Krokfors: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.